(In March 1999, The Chicago Reporter published a story about the record-number of police shootings of civilians in 1998. Chicago Police officers shot 71 people that year; 15 died. In comparison, police shot 50 people in 2014; 18 died, according to the Independent Police Review Authority. We are republishing this story because the number of officer-involved shootings in 1998 and the Chicago Police Department’s response resonate today in the wake of new concerns about police violence against civilians. — Susan Smith Richardson, editor and publisher)
Chicago police officers shot 71 people in 1998, the highest annual total in the decade, according to data from the Office of Professional Standards, the civilian arm of the Chicago Police Department that investigates police misconduct allegations. Fifteen of those people died from their wounds.
Between 1990 and 1998, police recorded 505 shootings, including 139 deaths, OPS records show. The largest number of fatalities — 21 — occurred in 1994.
Of the 139 fatalities, 115 occurred when police shot other people, including 82 black victims, 16 Latinos, 12 whites and two Asians. Police died from self-inflicted wounds in 24 cases — 16 involving suicide by white male officers.
“The greatest majority of shootings occur when an officer is put in a defensive position, defending himself or another individual,” said Patrick Camden, deputy director of news affairs for the police department. “The question should be, ‘Why has the number of citizens who decide to pull guns gone up?’”
“Police are out of control in the African- American communities,” said Standish E. Willis, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who represents four families involved in fatal police shootings. He recommends that an independent, community-based board review police misconduct, discipline officers and make recommendations.
“The community is inflamed by this issue,” said Nehemiah Russell, an activist against police brutality and principal of Cabrini-Green Middle College, a Near North Side alternative school at 880 N. Hudson Ave. “If these matters are not addressed in our communities, it could lead to a race riot.”
Last month, U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago) asked President Bill Clinton to appoint a federal task force to investigate incidents of police brutality and misconduct. “Progress has come like an old man’s teeth — few and far between,” Davis said.
In April alone, six Chicagoans were killed by police, including four blacks in one week, according to reporters from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office:
- April 1: Gregory Beck, 17, was shot in the 5100 block of North Long Street after an officer said he fired at him.
- April 2: Ernest Hopkins, 27, was shot during a failed drugs-for-weapons police sting operation in a McDonald’s parking lot 1t 7832 S. Western Ave.
- April 3: Tyrus Ellis, 33, died after being shot by police during a car chase in which he allegedly tried to run over an officers.
- April 5: Michael Russell Hamilton, 21, was killed by police at 500 W. Oak St. Police said he refused to lay down his weapon.
Police could not provide information on the status of OPS investigations into these cases.
Illinois law permits officers to use deadly force in self-defense or to protect lives. In 1996, 15 of the 17 shooting deaths were ruled justifiable, according to the most recent data available from the FBI, which tracks crime nationwide. Ten of the 15 involved black victims, and 13 involved white police officers.
The circumstances surrounding some shootings, however, remain contentious — and fraught with political overtones. Police say 18-year-old Chad Edwards was shot by Officer Raymond Wilkes on Feb. 17, 1998, and died Feb. 21. Police say they were responding to a call of a possible burglary when Edwards, an African- American living at 6110 S. Washtenaw Ave., burst out of a closet in a neighbor’s home holding a pair of pliers. He was shot in the head.
While he was hospitalized in critical condition, police charged him with criminal trespassing and aggravated assault, court records show. OPS ruled the shooting justifiable.
But according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his mother, Tanya Edwards, her son and his girlfriend were visiting the neighbor’s house with permission when police entered unannounced. Edwards was shot when he went to the doorway to investigate the noise — unarmed and wearing no pants.
Last month, the family of Brennan King, a 21-year-old father of three who was shot by police on Nov. 27, filed a $5 million civil rights lawsuit against the city. King, a Cabrini-Green resident, had a record including aggravated assault against a police officer, mob action and drug possession, court records show.
Officer Peter Kelly shot King after chasing him into a stairwell of a Cabrini high-rise at 660 W. Division St. King “turned around with a box cutter and cut Officer Kelly multiple times,” according to the police account provided to the medical examiner.
Investigators found six used shell cartridges from Kelly’s gun near the stairwell. Willis, representing King’s family, said the box cutter explanation was fabricated and that a witness heard King begging for his life.
OPS is still investigating the case; Kelly remains on duty, Camden said.
“Brennan is really missed. He was my namesake,” said his aunt, Brenda King. “He was changing a lot. He had lost his mother, brother and was taking care of two cousins.”